Aug 242016
 

#BlAugust is going strong so far. I am digging the morning writing for sure.

MTBOSBlaugust2016

Yesterday I was taking a moment after work to look at my Twitter feed and I saw this hashtag #ObserveMe with a picture of a sign outside a classroom. It was this pic.  (you can click on any picture to make embiggen them if you want to see the details.)

observeme pic 1

I know it was this picture, because it is without a number in my folder. I got excited! How powerful is this one simple sign. It tells every person walking in the room that you WANT their feedback. You want them to come into your room. You want them to talk to learners, to watch their interaction, and to give you feedback.

How amazingly powerful.

I followed the hashtag, and found out it was started by Robert Kaplinsky. I am not surprised. It is a powerful statement of changing classroom culture.  Here are some more examples I thought were just amazing.

ObserveMe 3  ObserveMe 5  ObserveMe 7

Notice the statement of what classes are taught when. That way any teacher can chose what topic to watch, or they know what topic to expect as they walk in. I also love the QR code connected to a google form. I scanned them. They work. Finally, the third picture has both a QR code for electronic data collection as well as the forms right there next to the code for ease of use. There is no excuse not to give feedback in Ms. Rani’s classroom.

But how does this change culture?

You cannot be a teacher who shuts their door and ignores the world with this hanging outside your room. You are inviting the world in.

But you are not just inviting the world in, you are asking the world to look for specific things; questioning techniques, understanding, engagement, interaction, problem solving, and ‘teacher as facilitator’ are all things mentioned.

You are asking the world to talk to your learners. You are asking the world to thoughtfully think about the classroom environment, and to evaluate what is going on in your classroom.

How powerful.

But, flip this around. What does it tell the LEARNERS who are passing this sign on the way into your room?

The learners know that at anytime, anyone could be walking in to look for these things. It tells the learners that these are activities or behaviors that you think are important. It tells the learners that you value being a “facilitator” not a “lecturer” and that you are holding yourself accountable for those values. (Yes, Ms. Garner I am calling you out on that because I love it so much.)

We also should not be stagnant on what we look for. As the semester continues, the ‘look fors’ must change and adapt as well. The #ObserveMe flyer in the window below makes that explicit.

ObserveMe 6  ObserveMe 4

Okay, I am in love with this idea and am sharing it widely.

BUT, how can I apply this to my work at the University?

If I just talk about it in class, then who cares. With that in mind, I have put together draft 1 of my sign.

ObserveMeUNR

It will definitely get the QR code treatment. I will have to remember to put it up and take it down every class. Wouldn’t that really freak out some professor who didn’t see it there and someone walks into their room to observe them.

I also have two other Master Teachers in the program to sell in the idea who will be in the room with me. I don’t mind throwing myself under the bus, but I won’t throw them without their permission.

I just figure, if I am going to talk about this at the University level to my preservice teachers, I better be willing to walk the walk if I am going to talk the talk.

What do you think? Are my goals reasonable?

Aug 052016
 

Hitting number 5 for #BlAugust on the 5th of August. Excellent. So far so good!

MTBOSBlaugust2016

Transitioning from teaching mathematics to teaching theory is difficult. Not because of the content, that is just reading and understanding what I read. No, it is difficult because of how I define teaching.

Telling isn’t teaching. I decided a long time ago that I was a constructivist teacher, and so to get learners to understand the meanings of mathematics and practice the skills of solving, decomposing, composing and all of the other essential practices of good algebra, all I had to do was practice questioning techniques and direct my questions towards the goals and standards I was teaching.

I read books like the Princples to Actions,  5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Math Conversations, and Mathematical Mindsets. Moving into other deeper books on questioning like The Art of Problem Posing, or Powerful Problem Solving just extended those skills and allowed me to become a good math teacher.

There are no standards for Educational Theory (although I have other professors syllabi from other programs.)

There are no books to teach me how to teach Educational Theory (yea, I looked.)

Shoot. Now what. I feel like this.

climbing the hill

This course has no skills to practice (good writing is a skill, of course, but there are no skills to practice for the course alone). This course is a purely theoretical knowledge course. Out of the theory, the learners will be able to place themselves into a tradition, and develop skills within the traditions. But, … I am faced with a conundrum.

How to teach what could easily be a lecture course, pure and simple, without falling into the easy trap of creating ppt slides from the readings and going over them?

To keep myself from doing this, I have not allowed myself to even open PowerPoint. The only docs I have open are Word planning docs and the pdfs of the readings.

Good, step 1 complete: Define the boundaries.

Step 2: what is the goal of each day? What do I want the learners to walk out the door after 1.25 hours knowing?

Step 3: What questions am I going to ask prior to class to focus the learners on the readings?

Step 4: What questions will I ask in class to elicit deeper understandings of the readings and prompt discussion?

Step 5: What activities will we do in class that reinforce the readings and create deeper understanding of the material?

Whew.

As I look at the list, I realize something. Were I doing this course as a lecture course, the list would not change at all. The exact same steps, questions, and problems would be there for doing a lecture class as a more involved, engaging, discussion course.

Doing this process has given me a much better appreciation for the amount of effort that goes into teaching a theory course. No wonder the philosophy courses I took in grad school (the first time) were taught off of copies of copies of notes. Once you go through all this effort to develop questions and activities you don’t want to change them.

Is that really an excuse? I don’t believe so, but it is an explanation.

I am through the third day with steps 2 and 3. I have some activities in mind as well. But, with respect to step 4 I am at a total loss still. I need to know my learners better, but I can’t go in cold.

This is tough, but so much fun.

But I am not sure or confident that the questioning skills I have spent the last 9 years practicing apply here.

Feb 022016
 

On Friday last week at the end of the Step 1 class we were talking about engagement, high fives, enthusiasm, and why we are teachers. The conversation started with these two questions:

  1.  Write about a lesson / teacher who you remember using a 5E model.
  2. Write about a lesson / teacher who you remember did NOT use a 5E model.

The conversation led to the idea that the teachers they remembered from #1 were teachers the learners in class remembered fondly, they remembered their classes with enthusiasm, and they remembered specific lessons from those classes. The teachers in category #2 were still good teachers (I did stress this) but the entire conversation was less enthusiastic. No lessons specifically were brought up, and it the words “favorite teacher” was never mentioned. As in, not even close.

And then I challenged the class. “What category of teacher do you want to be?” I let them think about it.

And then, I brought up the fact that I had high fived them the last two weeks. I asked why they thought I did that, and how did it make them feel. The conversation was epic. They realized how connected and interested just that one little thing made them.

At this point, after I explained my High 5 philosophy.

Then, as I do, I ask, “What other questions do you have?” That opened the door.

One question was, “Why do you call us learners?” Answer, because students study, and I don’t care how much you study. I care how much you learn, so I refuse to call you students. Also, if you have students in the room, then you also have …. [they said a teacher] … So, if I call you learners, that what am I? A learner, too. And I promise, I will learn as much from you this semester as you learn from me.

After I explained about my “learner” philosophy, someone in the class said, “You should make a mix tape.”

That statement stuck with me all weekend.

So, here is a mix of Waddell’s greatest hits. Now, before you say, “Well, anyone can be egotistical enough to write these,” know that I did not write these. I asked my learners from last year on Facebook to tell me what stuck with them. These are things they reported almost a year after being in my class. This is “My Mix Tape.”  My comments are in [].

——

“I don’t care how much you study, I care how much you learn.”

“If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth your time.”

“You can’t memorize math, you have to learn it to understand.”

“Things don’t ‘cancel’ out.”  [did you know teachers use the word “cancel” to mean as many as four or five completely different things? This is a huge pet peeve of mine.]

But this is the whole quote of what was written: “Things don’t cancel out.” I know it was for math because things don’t disappear they become a 1 or 0 but it applies to life on how things don’t just disappear and cancel out. There are reasons, hurts, joys, etc that come. There is so much more to things than just “canceling” them.  [Seriously, can I cry now?]

“Amazeballs”

“You’re awesome remember that.”

“Use your Awesome brains.”

“You have all the knowledge, remember to use it.”

“Stop complicating things take a second look.”

“Once you know the basics to math, you know everything you need for any problem.”

——-

And, finally,
Learner #1: You were and are the most amazing teacher I have ever had
Learner #2: Can I second that?

 

—–

Okay, Now I have some tears. For realsies.

Nov 122015
 

I have been in Elementary school classrooms this semester observing my learners teach lessons. They are amazing, and the UTeach model of teacher education is one with which I am completely on board. My learners will have spent so much time in the classroom being observed and getting feedback that they will have no choice but to be amazing teachers. Add in the fact that my math teachers will only be taught to use interactive and engaging methods like the 5E model, and you have a home run.

BUT, as I have been in 3rd through 5th grade classrooms, I have noticed a very disturbing trend. Like this board I saw in a 5th grade classroom.

2015-11-02 12.20.48 (2)

Notice that the objective here was to “Reacquaint yourself” with the math terms by designing a city. OMG. Seriously. This was in the 5th freaking grade. No wonder geometry is such a difficult class to teach in HS, the learners are bored stiff and resentful the teacher is lecturing them on something they have spent time on already.

Next up, a 4th grade classroom. The terms I heard LEARNERS using today were; expression, equation, identity, and inverse.

No joke. 4th grade. The learners were using the terms correctly, and identifying the difference between an expression and equation and using inverses to construct identities while solving equations.

This was not a Gifted and Talented classroom, this was an at risk, high needs, pretty normal, typical classroom.

If I were to summarize what I have learned this semester as a teacher of teachers, it is this. High School teachers, we need to seriously up our game. We need to realize that the reason our learners look bored and apathetic is because we are rehashing what they already know.

We are NOT connecting to what they already know (even if we think we are.)

We are NOT challenging them to reach for deeper understanding (even if we think we are.)

And, we are NOT realizing the learners are entering our classrooms with a great deal of prior math experience and love. Connect with it. Pull it out. Create engagement.

My eyes are open, and it scares me to death what I have done in the past to my learners. The CCSS standards are working. The shifts in mathematics education are working. We must be leaders and take advantage of it.

Go spend time in elementary school classrooms. It will shock you what the learners are doing today. What are we doing?

Sep 082014
 

I want to do these in order of their occurrence today because it set the tone for me. I was giving an exam in AP Stats (hence no new info about AP Stats) and at the end the exam a learner handed me a note. It was very personal, but it essentially said “please forgive me if I seem out of it this week, a person close to me passed away this week a couple of years ago and I always have a bad week around now.”

Wow.

I sat there thinking about the struggle this learner has this week, the memory of the passing, and the fact that teaching is not about content but about the relationships. This is a concept that I did not have 8 years ago. I jumped into teaching thinking I could teach math and rock the content like no one else.

Today I know better. Today I know I know content; I am confident in my content; but I KNOW for a fact that all of that knowledge is useless if my learners do not trust me and I don’t trust them. I have not always had that knowledge. I have made mistakes on this issue in the past.

By the way, I thanked that learner for communicating with me. I will watch this person closely to make sure there are no problems. I owe  that much for sure.

 

Alg 2

Then I introduced rational exponents later. I put one question on the board.

“Given that you know what 8^(1/3) means. Given that you know what 8^2 means. What do you think 8^(2/3) means?”

I let them think about it for several minutes.

Eventually, one learner broke it down into two parts, cube root of 8 is two; two squared is 4.

Excellent. We discussed why that works, we discussed what happens if the order is reversed.

Then we rocked some complicated problems I put on the board.

Yes, they made mistakes, but the mistakes made were procedural mistakes. Mistakes about not distributing to all terms, or multiplying fractions wrong, or moving all terms instead of only the term with negative exponent.

I am telling you, this was absolutely successful. I did not approach rational exponents like this last year, but it works. Let them create the meaning.

Never say something a learner can say.

Jul 162014
 

I have been thinking a lot about growth mindset lately (really, what teacher is not.) But I have really been trying to come up with positive, constructive ways to model and use it in the classroom as a way to change the learners beliefs.

One way I came up with using it is to have some statements that I can use consistently when learners are struggling in class. My personal challenge when dealing with the fixed mindset is what to say, how to constructively come back with something that will start impacting beliefs. As a teacher, we hear it, but how do we respond? It has to be consistent or we lose their focus. These cannot just be quotes on the wall, but statements delivered with conviction face to face to have an impact.

So, here are some statements I hope to use in my classroom. I am going to print them out and post them where I can see them every day in the morning and before every class to remind myself to use them until I don’t need the list any more.

Learner Says or is Doing: Teacher (ME!) says:
Learner is struggling with material “If it was easy, I would not waste your time with it”
Learner whips through problem, too easy “I apologize for wasting your time, I will find something more appropriate for you.”
“This is too hard.” “What strategies have we discussed that could help you get started?”
“This is too hard.” “It is difficult now, but so was adding in elementary school. You overcame that with effort and you will overcome this with effort.”
“I am not good at this.” “The more you practice the math, the better at it you will become.”
“This is easy.” “I am glad you understand this, can you develop a more complex idea with it that challenges you?”
“This is as good as I can do.” “You can always improve, as long as you give it some more effort. What other strategy have you not used yet?”
“I made a mistake, I can’t do this.” “Mistakes are how we learn. If it was easy, you wouldn’t be learning anything new.”
“This is good enough.” “Is this your best work to show your learning?”
“I didn’t get it on the first try, so I won’t.” “So your plan A didn’t work out. Good thing there are 25 more letters. Start on plan B.”
“You are just too hard on us. We can’t do it.” “I’m giving you this assignment because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

 

The goal here is to have a bank of statements that reinforce growth mindset that are easy to memorize, adopt, use and believe in so that every day I am consistently changing the dialogue in the classroom. I have found that it is easy to get sideswiped by a comment and not have a positive response handy. My goal is to fix that.

 

Any suggestions? Additions? Changes?

 

———————-

Some resources for Growth Mindset I will also use come from:

http://mathmamawrites.blogspot.com/2010/07/day-one-of-class-beliefs-about-math.html Sue is an amazing writer and teacher. Her take on this is invaluable

http://mathhombre.blogspot.com/2010/07/growth-model.html Just download John Golden’s Implict Theory of Mathematics Learning worksheet now and give it out the first week of school. I am, and you will be glad you did it too.

http://practicalsavvy.com/2012/01/31/inspiring-quotes-demonstrating-the-growth-mindset/ These are great quotes, but quotes around the room won’t cut it. It has to come from my mouth, every day.

Jun 102014
 

My friend over at Cheesemonkey Wonders posted a list of Growth Mindset Quotes on her blog, and it made me realize that I do something similar.  Every single day of the year, I put a different quote on my board. They all deal with academics, success, fighting to learn or achieve, or something similar.

I started doing this three years ago, and I did it for myself at first. I just thought I would inject a little thoughtfulness and philosophy into my math class and started collecting quotes to do so. That document is now 26 pages long with nothing but quotes I have saved.

One day, I was lazy or in a hurry and did not put up a new quote. One of my learners actually came back out of my room, stood in front of me and said, “That quote is the same as yesterday’s. You need to fix that.”  At that point I realized my learners were reading them, and did actually care about the quotes I was putting up.

Since then, my learners have told me they enjoy them, they find them inspirational, and one learner actually told me she saw my quotes on facebook because another learner liked it, photographed it and posted it.

Little things matter. Sometimes, they matter more than big things.  With that in mind, here are some of my favorite quotes from my 26 pages.  I will put it below the fold, because this may be a little long.

Continue reading »

Jun 162011
 

Okay, I have to admit, I haven’t really designed my own curriculum for algebra 2 before. I just looked at the district blueprint, saw what chapters they expected me to cover, and did that. Sometimes I figured out homework assignments the morning of. Sometimes I had homework planned out weeks in advance. But I had never really thought about how to teach the curriculum from the top down before.

And then I met Holly Young and the Washoe County School Districts RPDP and began the Student Learning Facilitator program (SLF) and began to read the book Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe (UbD).

Darn her! She threw my whole process upside down and made me realize how much I sucked. And then my school changed their schedule to a odd block arrangement which takes our class minutes from 90 to 71 (but increases minutes over the semester and increases class meetings! Yea!) And then the Common Core State Standards is coming out, and we will have to rewrite everything anyway.

So this summer, another teacher and I sat down immediately after school was out to start planning next year’s Algebra 2 class. It is the first time she has taught it, and it I have not taught it for 2 years, so it is new to me, given the changes to our school this year.

Read on to see some of the details of our planning.

Continue reading »

Jan 292011
 

What a difference a year makes. Or not. No, it did make a difference. A year ago, I was in the middle of my 3rd year of teaching. Do you remember your third year? If it sucked, because you felt like an utter failure at every single lesson, every single exam, and everything else you did, then yes, you remember.

So, I stopped blogging. I am still looking for success, and I am finding some better success now, but a year ago, no.

With that explanation, I am going to explain what I learned, and then re-launch my blog.

What I learned by taking a year off. First off, I didn’t really think I had anything to contribute to the larger community of teachers as a whole. I now realize that I was horribly mistaken! I do have something to contribute, and I am not a horrible teacher. I may not be a great one, but I am not horrible. What I have to contribute is the successes I do have! My learners are awesome! My fellow teacher ROCK! And together, we have done some amazing things. I can share those amazing things.

You know that model of competence? Yea, that one one that has Consciously Competent, Unconsciously incompetent, etc. You know, this one. I learned that I have Unconscious Competence in technology. I dealt with some teachers and had it drilled into me that it is not necessarily a good thing to be unconscious about that!

Damn. That is why I was so frustrated on some issues with fellow teachers! I just assumed that everyone can write in html (you mean they can’t?).  So, I spent part of the year thinking on how I can help. How can I do better at teaching my co-workers?

So, in the end, I learned a lot about me. My goal is to have one substantive post about my learners and classroom every week. I also post a daily or every other day link on Twitter about tech and / or interesting idea about teaching.

I also started the SLF (Student Learning Facilitator) program with Washoe County School District. I will be writing about this process. Honestly, it is the best training I have had, hands down.

Bon Voyage, my friends. So begins a new chapter in finding Success!